Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


In John's opening words (the prologue) to the Gospel, he says that the darkness has not overcome the light.

Have you ever considered the question of what the world would be like if Jesus had never been born?

If Jesus was truly the incarnation of God, what difference did God's presence with us really make?

Why would God come to be one of us, if at the end of his earthly time with us, nothing had really changed in the darkness of our world?

We may have never formally asked such questions, but have we not all thought, felt, or intuited that such questions need to be at least considered?

What is the darkness that can not cover up the light?

What is the light that the Christ Child brings into the darkness?

These questions I have posed are about God (theology) and about us (anthropology).

John's Gospel makes bold statements about God. God is the one who can break through darkness like a ray from the sun bursting through a small pin hole in a pitch black room. That beam of light is striking and scatters darkness as it makes its way through the darkness.

John declares that Jesus is this sort of light, breaking through the darkness of our human ways. As the light dawns on us, our darkness and our part in it is lit up and we see God and ourselves in a new way.

It is this experience of light that makes the darkness of human sin stand out in sharp contrast to what we could do and who we can be in our relationship to God and to one another.


"He was in the world, and the world came into being through him;

yet the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name,

he gave power to become children of God,

who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man,

but of God."

John is clear that neither the world (non-Jews) nor "his own people" (Jesus' Jewish countrymen)knew him despite the witness of John that he was the creator, light, lamb of God and life of the world.

The final evidence and witness that light has not been overcome by the darkness is found in the light that shines on the faces of those who have declared peace with God and with others and who accept the radical understanding that all of the daughters of Eve and sons of Adam are brothers and sisters under the Fatherhood of God.

We are not children of this tribe or that small family or nation, but of a God who claims us all as his children. By claiming us as his children, God shines light into the darkness of human sin that allows one of his children to deny the humanity and goodness of another one of his children.

The deep darkness would have us believe that God favors some over others and approves of us making war against God's enemies. Today, there are voices within the Christian community and beyond on whom light has dawned. As children of the same Father, they seek to love and serve others as beloved brothers and sisters.

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Christmas Letter of Hope to those who are Searching for God

The prophet Jeremiah spoke these words in a time long ago:

Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you, YAHWEH declares,
plans for peace, not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope.
When you call to me and come and pray to me,
I shall listen to you.
When you search for me,
you will find me;
when you search wholeheartedly for me,
I shall let you find me . . .
Jeremiah 29:11-14a

What a surprise it is to find God in a baby. If you were God where would you take up residence? This is a fundamental question for us to consider as we come together around the infant Christ on Christmas; sing his praises; hear the dark tones of his future, even as angels and shepherds visit him and announce his birth.

Was the One who creates and sustains all things seen and unseen trying to hide from us when he came to us as a human infant? I believe God entered our world through the body of Mary to open our eyes to God’s presence among us, not to obscure that presence. In tenderness, vulnerability, and love, God is with us. That is the simple and life altering and transforming truth of Christmas.

This infant child of Mary contains our past, present, and future and is the hope that God is in us, as he was in Jesus.

Is that the Good News we celebrate at Christmas?

For me, this Good News grows and expands and takes shape and life in me more and more each year. As we remember God’s promise to be with us (Emmanuel), we trust that, as we gather together this Christmas and throughout the year in service, worship, friendship, and community, God is present with us in ways that offer us times and places to become fully human in God’s heart.

At Jesus’ birth, there were those who saw him as the hope of the world and there were those who saw his birth as a threat. But for most people, Jesus slipped into the world quietly and with little fanfare. This Christmas and everyday, Jesus continues to be born in the obscurity and impossibility of our human flesh and blood.

I invite you to come to the stable of Christ’s birth and witness in hope, the coming of God with us. May you find and celebrate God’s child born in your soul this Holy Christmas season as you share in community the Good News of God’s love and presence with us.

God’s Peace in the Christmas Joy,

Father Bob+

Tuesday, December 12, 2006



John the Baptist seemed so angry at the mob of people who came out to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. His voice was loud, accusing, and harsh:

"You brood of vipers!

Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance.

Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

Is it possible that Jesus is the "fruit worthy of repentance" that John demanded of the mob? Why had they gone out to see John? John believes that they are running scared. They fear “the wrath to come.” Is this wrath, the wrath of God?

N.T. Wright, the Anglican bishop of Durham and well-respected New Testament scholar has written that the meaning of wrath is best understood historically as “hostile military action.”

When the prophets of Israel spoke of “the wrath to come,” they were not referring to divine fire falling from heaven, but from the brutal exercise of violence by human beings.

*Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century English political philosopher, wrote of wrath in the same way calling it “war of all against all.” For Hobbes, it is not divine wrath that confronts and threatens humanity, but human violence used to claim what others claim. In short, the desire and the decision to take what others have by use of violence.

Those who ran out into the wilderness that surrounded the Jordan River came running from the Roman wrath, believing that because they were “children of Abraham,” God would exercise his greater violence against the Romans on their behalf and destroy the Gentile scourge.

In John’s understanding, the claim on God’s power to destroy anyone because of some special relationship with God, was simply and completely wrong. He calls them a brood of vipers slithering towards the river to avoid the fire of Roman wrath exercised by the Roman military.

John could smell their fear. Such fear was not the fruit that was capable of repenting or turning towards God and away from the violence of humanity. His demand that they “bear fruit worthy of repentance,” must have been confusing and incomprehensible to the mob.

Their only solution to their problem was violent retaliation against Rome or anyone else who stood in their way. Due to their lack of military might, their solution of violence was beyond their reach and so they hoped that God would scorch the Romans for them.

Victims often pray for vindication against those who oppress them. If you read the Psalms and many other parts of the Old Testament, you can hear this prayer against the enemies of Israel.

John preaches a different path and offers a way through the dirty waters of the Jordan. The mob will indeed bear fruit worthy of repentance. Jesus, their native son, will be the fruit of generations of Jews. Jesus’ family tree is at one with the larger tree of Israel and according to Luke, stretches back beyond Israel to the very beginning of human kind.

Jesus, then, is the fruit from the human tree that his mother, Mary will bring into the world. Jesus is the One who is handed over to this fearful mob at the Jordan and again in Jerusalem. It is Jesus who is capable (worthy) of changing (repentance) from the old ways of violence to God’s way of love and reconciliation.

John says that this One who is to come is the one who will baptize this mob with fire and the Holy Spirit. Jesus was handed over to the mob and the mob did what mobs always do. His body was laid in a garden tomb as a seed from a new fruit is buried in the soil in hopes of a larger harvest of the same delicious fruit.

This is where the fire and the Holy Spirit came down—in the soil of the mob where the seed of Christ has been planted. The Tree of Humanity and the grace of God combined to produce “fruit worthy of repentance.”

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Bless art thou among women and blessed in the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” AMEN!

* De Cive by Thomas Hobbes (1651)
“War of All against All”
Chapter One
Of the state of men without Civill Society

XII. “If now to this naturall proclivity of men, to hurt each other, which they derive from their Passions, but chiefly from a vain esteeme of themselves: You adde, the right of all to all, wherewith one by right invades, the other by right resists, and whence arise perpetuall jealousies and suspicions on all hands, and how hard a thing it is to provide against an enemy invading us, with an intention to oppresse, and ruine, though he come with a small Number, and no great Provision;. it cannot be deny'd but that the naturall state of men, before they entr'd into Society, was a meer War, and that not simply, but a War of all men, against all men; for what is WAR, but that same time in which the will of contesting by force, is fully declar'd either by Words, or Deeds? The time remaining, is termed PEACE.”

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


"Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them."

In our reading from the prophet, Baruch, which we will hear this Sunday, the Holy city of Jerusalem is pictured almost like a parent or grandparent whose children and grandchildren have been kidnapped and who, by the grace of God, are now returning home, safe and unharmed.

Where is your Holy Place and when and how did you leave it?

When you are young, the people, sights, sounds, smells, and experiences in which you are raised form a Holy Place of return. In my case, Coffeyville, Kansas was my Jerusalem.

My extended family lived in Coffeyville and they deeply lamented and grieved with great sobs and tears on the day my parents packed up our 1953 Studebaker Land Cruiser with trailer attached and headed west to Los Angeles.

I remember vividly this moment of leaving. My Grandmother Odessa and Aunt Polly cried and waved their small cotton handkerchiefs while my Uncle Cal and Granddad Bill McBean stood by, not able to express their grief at our leaving.

Children and grandchildren are very special to parents and grandparents. They represent a future that lies beyond the presence of the previous generation. Children and grandchildren are holy, set aside by reason of birth and family ties, to be our future.

Baruch captures this powerful movement of holy children leaving their holy place. Jerusalem, that holy place of a particular people, particular sights, particular sounds, particular smells, and particular experiences has been invaded and conquered. The population has been deported, leaving only the empty city behind.

The prophet speaks to the city of Jerusalem as if she was someone like my Grandmother Odessa and tells her to take off that old dress she has been wearing since her children were stolen from her. He calls this dress, “the garment of your sorrow and affliction.”

The prophet then tells Mother Jerusalem to put on a new robe. This robe he calls “righteousness that comes from God.” Sounds like a strange name for a robe, doesn’t it? But it is the prophet’s way of describing that it is God who makes things truly holy and special.

It is God, whose children have been taken into exile and who are now returning. It is God who disguised as Mother Jerusalem waits with joy and gladness as her children move from east and west toward the great reunion with one another and their Holy Place in which God is somehow most completely experienced as their Shalom, the peace and unity of hearts, minds, and bodies that does not require violence to create or maintain.

The prophet wrote:

“For they went out on foot, led by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you (Mother Jerusalem), carried in glory, as on a royal throne.”
Where is your Holy Place (Mother Jerusalem) in which God seemed so present in your childhood and from which you have either left or been taken by circumstances of your choices?

Who is the prophet that is calling you back to the Holy One who makes you and all of us holy?

What seems to be missing from your life and calls you to a pilgrimage in search of the Holy where shalom and unity can be found?

I discovered sometime during my time of heeding the prophet’s words to return to the Holy Place of my youth, that God was creating in my life that which is holy. My journey is not over, but I have discovered that Coffeyville is not really my final destination, but a reminder of a hope that keeps me moving towards God.

During this Holy Time of Advent, let us dedicate ourselves to more faithfully coming together as fellow pilgrims on the path to our common Holy Place of peace and unity with God and one another. Let us deepen our prayer lives and open our hearts to others and as we do, we will know more and more the Peace of God which passes all human understanding and the Holy Place in which we live.

God's Peace in Prayer and Giving,

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Guess Who's Coming to Town?

Is the all seeing and all knowing Santa Claus watching you and making a list of your every action? Are your Naughty marks going to cost you this year?

How many of us grew up with Santa Claus Theology 101?

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

O! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town

This American Christmas classic was written by two composers named Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots and was first popularize by Al Jolson in 1932 ( At some time during my growing up years, I stopped staying awake to catch this Santa Claus character in action. Interesting that Jesus asked his disciples to stay awake with him while he spent the night in prayer, but our parents wanted us kids to go to sleep right away so they could put our gifts under the family Christmas tree.

This popular Santa song made the receiving of gifts contingent upon children being good. Good meant no crying, no pouting, and not being naughty. Sort of an open book of bad behavior designed to give parents a bit of an edge on their kids as Christmas approached.

For many adults, the belief that being good will bring you gifts from a omniscient and omnipotent Santa God continues to hold their imaginations. Is this also the message of Jesus? I doubt that you could make an argument for Jesus wanting us to do wicked things to one another, but does Jesus tell us that God's gift giving is dependent upon our being particularly good? At one point Jesus says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust, suggesting that maybe being good does not magically and predicatably bring us material goods that will delight and fascinate us.

During Advent we do hear about a time of death, judgment, heaven, and hell. These are the traditional themes of Advent called "the last things."

Are these the gifts and punishments of God for being nice or naughty?

What is your hope in the face of death and the fears that we face each day?

What is your understanding of heaven and hell? Are these just outdated ideas of the past or do they still capture your imagination?

What does God judge us on, collectively and indivdually?

What is the relationship between our behavior and God's willingness to give us good things?

As you read this week's Gospel from St. Luke, does this suggest a Santa Clause theology or something more profound and transformative?

I invite you to read the Gospel for yourself. Spend some time with it and let the words and phrases find a place in you.

Luke 21:25-36

Jesus said, "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The King Who Washes Feet:In Whose Service is Perfect Freedom

On this Christ the King feast day, it is important to remember that Jesus was a different sort of king than is usually imagined when we think of Herod, Caesar, or Louis XIV.

In fact, his reign as king is best understood in his insistence upon washing the feet of his disciples on the last evening they spent together. Jesus, by this act of servitude taught his disciples the truth about God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of God was an invitation to join God in voluntary and freely given service to others.

It is little wonder that Pilate could not grasp the meaning of this truth. For Pilate, truth was about the raw power of military might. To maintain power and control, the threat of violence and the willingness to use military might to achieve political objectives were the only options. This was Pilate's truth. This was Caesar's truth. Behind every king, there was an army that would support and sanctify his rule.

And so, when Pilate judges Jesus we hear both speaking out of two very different contexts. What is Jesus' definition of his kingship?

If Jesus' kingdom were like the kingdom that Caesar claimed, he would have been raising an army, rather than the dead.

He would have had others serving him, rather than serving others like their common slave.

He would have been excluding the weak and powerless from his followers rather than intentionally calling them to be with him.

He would have used all the tricks of the trade to increase his personal power rather than emptying himself of such power.

The Gospel for this Sunday, Christ the King, contains a powerful exchange between two men with very different understandings of the truth. Jack Nicholson made famous the line, "You can't handle the truth," in the film, A Few Good Men (to view this clip from the movie go to Nicholson's character is very much like Pilate. For Pilate, the truth is really a lie turned to truth by raw power and violence. Pilate’s truth is myth.

Truth for Jesus is about doing what he sees God doing. Like a child imitating a parent, Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus, in kneeling before his disciples to wash their feet, was expressing in human terms the image of God. He is showing us how God uses the power of the universe in loving service to his creation and his beloved children.

On the day of Jesus’ judgment, he is tried for the crime of being a king and he is convicted by the mob through the instruments of the Roman state. The crowd is reported to have roared: “We have no King, but Caesar!”

As we celebrate Christ the King, I would invite you to make your judgment of Christ by making a choice about what sort of king you will serve. Will you let Jesus wash your feet? Will you serve this servant king?

A Collect for Peace and Protection

O GOD, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

John 18:33-37

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him,

"Are you the King of the Jews?"

Jesus answered,

"Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?"

Pilate replied,

"I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?"

Jesus answered,

"My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.

"Pilate asked him,

"So you are a king?"

Jesus answered,

"You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Kingdom Beyond Violence and Distress

John came to the church and the door was closed. He opened the door and discovered that the building was empty. On this particular Sunday, everyone had stayed home. Why? John really did not have an answer to that question. All he knew was that he was alone when he needed to be in the company of others.

Has this scene played out here at Christ Church? Over a 213 year history there have only been a few short years when this sanctuary has not been the place of meeting for countless Christians. We need one another and the physical church is for many Christians, the symbol of our unity and place of meeting.

In today's Gospel reading, Jesus looks at the symbol of Jewish faith, piety, and unity, the Temple in Jerusalem and predicts its destruction. The Temple was the place of gathering and identity for most of the people of Jesus' day. It must have been hard to imagine the Temple left in ruins. Here is the Gospel for this week.

Mark 13:1-8

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?"

Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

Today, such negative words might be the equivalent to someone predicting that our National Cathedral or The White House or some other symbol of our national life would end up being leveled by a foreign invader. Such talk might be considered treasonous or inflamatory.

Jesus tells his disciples to be watchful. Most people are attracted to the negative headlines. Jesus is telling his disciples not to be captivated by such negative events and the spin that is put on them. He predicts that false leaders and messiahs will arise and promise that they are the "final solution" to world conflict and earthly woes. People will believe and do just about anything if they think it will save them from chaos and violence.

Jesus tells his disciples that the signs of violence and catestrophic events are "the beginning of the birthpangs." Why and how does the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven create such chaos and violence? Jesus predicts the end of the sacrificial system of Israel. This is the system that has allowed Israel to survive the horrors of disunity and mutally assured violent destruction. By maintaining such a sacrificial system a level of control and order was maintained in the most difficult of situations.

The destruction of the Temple and the destruction of all of the other signs and institutions used to control human violence and disunity leads to more and more wholesale violence ("wars and rumors of wars"). The failure of human systems to achieve true peace and unity is in direct response to the transformative power of God that flows from the cross. Jesus gives his life instead of others being sacrificed in the name of God. His sacrifice creates doubt about the way we control violence and then certainty that our human institutions have failed to bring us the "peace of God that passes all understanding."

Jesus seems to be looking past the final acts of human violence masquerading as God's will. Jesus has a vision of a world in which God's love is the source of human unity and peace, but the path to this day of resurrection is through the dark night of the soul, the cross, and history. As we approach our patronal feast of Christ the King, consider the sort of world Jesus saw and for which he was willing to give his life to bring it about.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Running the Race:Dealing with Loss

I put on a pair of running shoes and stood just outside our home adjusting my hat, heart rate monitor, and pedometer, and checking my watch for the right time to do what I had not done in 2 years. I was about to jog on knees whose painful protests had shut down one of my most important physical and spiritual practices.

I started my journey the only way possible—one tentative step at a time. With each step I felt a return of the faith in my body, my legs, heart, and lungs to carry me down this street and that.

But I also honored and respected my body's needs and limits. After two years of absolutely no aerobic activity other than walking the dog, the heart monitor I wore made a loud beeping sound to alert me that I had exceeded the healthy limit of my cardiovascular system. And so, I stopped jogging and started walking.

The monitor beeped again to let me know that my heart rate had slipped below the level needed for an aerobic workout and I returned to my jogging pace. This will be my pattern for months ahead, but with each passing week, I find I am able to go further before the monitor sounds and faster.

On that first day back on the streets, I made my way towards the beaches of Playa Del Rey (Beach of the King). I found that my knees did not hurt. I had been given the gift of running again. I do not know how long I will enjoy this gift, but I can tell you that each step reminds me of my limits and the joy I find within those limits. It allows me to experience both my poverty and wealth.

For two years I have watched others as they ran slowly or quickly with their own unique gate and pace. At such times I grieved the loss of this experience in my life.

Why grieve over something I could not seem to control? Over 25 years ago, running saved my health and life and became an important part of my spirituality. It was a way of experiencing God through my breath and stride. So, when my knees seemed unable to carry me on my daily runs, I experienced a great loss. Have you experienced such a loss in your life? Have you lost through age or injury or illness some special gift that made life better for you?

It seems that loss is a very common human experience. From the day of our birth until the day we die, we know loss. Even when our losses are necessary and part of growing up, we experience them with varying degrees of pain.

Perhaps we accept some of these losses with grace. Often our losses take place over a long stretch of time. This gradualness gives us time and space to come to a graceful acceptance or a grudging accommodation.

Other losses come quickly and dramatically. Some losses are large while others are small. Some things may not seem like a big loss to others. Our personal valuation of the people, places, activities, and things in our life make loss a somewhat lonely and personal experience.

Consider the widow in our Gospel lesson for Sunday. Her loss seems to be self-chosen. She gives up her last two cents as a gift, while the giving of others was not so much a gift, but a way of demonstrating their power, wealth, and influence.

Jesus praises this woman as he watches her give away what represented her life. Jesus perhaps sees in her, his own giving of his life. Those who take his life seek to diminish him, make him the loser, but Jesus gives them his life as a gift.

So, as I count my blessings over the gift of running again, I am reminded that this gift, like everything and everyone else in my life is not permanent and that the time will come when I will experience the loss of it. As with all losses in life, I pray that I can offer what has been a pure, simple, and gracious gift back to the One who has so kindly given it to me.

I may experience it as loss and a cause for grief, the way one grieves the loss of a loved one, but I hope that at some deep place within me, I can offer the gift back to God with thanksgiving and praise. I believe this is what is meant by Jesus when he described the woman as, “Giving out of her poverty.”

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What Are Your Top Two Rules to Live By?

In this week's Gospel lesson, someone asks Jesus to identify the first commandment.

What are your top two rules of life? What experiences, people, or events taught you to believe in these rules?

Perhaps a reading of Jesus' response to this question might be worth looking at.

Mark 12:28-34

One of the scribes came near and heard the Saducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?"

Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'; and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbor as oneself,'--this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."

When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Perhaps Jesus and this anonymous scribe found common ground. The scribe says that sacrifices are less important than loving God and neighbor. Jesus says in response to this declaration: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Do our personal codes of conduct that rule our daily interactions with God and our neighbors bring us closer to the kingdom of God? Do our rules allow us to sacrifice others for our own self interests?

The photo on the cover our weekly service booklet shows the builders of the last Corazon home in Mexico. Did their actions offer them the opportunity to practice the great commandments that Jesus embraced in his life?

Do we learn to love God and our neighbors simply by saying we love them or does love only grow through patient practice of the gifts of hospitality and grace?

Does practicing love of God and neighbor change us?

Here are some quotes about love to help us prepare for this week’s Gospel. Do you have a favorite quote that you would like to share?

To love at all is to be vulnerable. --C.S. Lewis

You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget. --Jessica - age 8

Love cures people, both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it. --Dr. Karl Menninger

If we discovered that we had only five minutes left to say all that we wanted to say, every telephone booth would be occupied by people calling other people to stammer that they loved them. --Christopher Morley

He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God. God is love. Therefore love. Without distinction, without calculation, without procrastination, love. Lavish it upon the poor, where it is very easy; especially upon the rich, who often need it most; most of all upon out equals, where it is very difficult, and for whom perhaps we do the least of all. –Henry Drummond

Do not waste time bothering whether you "love" your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him. -- C. S. Lewis

We can only learn to love by loving. --Iris Murdoch

Love means to love that which is unlovable; or it is no virtue at all. --G. K. Chesterton

People need loving the most when they deserve it the least. --John Harrigan
The first duty of love - is to listen. --Paul Tillich

A Christian should always remember that the value of his good works is not based on their number and excellence, but on the love of God which prompts him to do these things. --John of the Cross

Love has no errors, for all errors are the want for love. --William Law

If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centeredness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; fortitude without love is recklessness; generosity without love is extravagance; care without love is mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love. -- Fr. Richard P. McBrien

If the Church ever succeeds in doing that big thing, that great thing, that unspeakable thing that God purposes that we should do, it can only be when we enter into that Divine compassion of the Son of God. --John G. Lake

Where there is great love there are always miracles.-- Willa Cather

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

We Would See Jesus

Believing is Seeing

I once had a student who I caught with some illegal drugs. He immediately said to me: "Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?" In our Gospel reading for this Sunday, we hear a story about a man whose faith allowed him to see after being blind. Is it possible to be sighted, but still be blind to the most important things and people in our lives? This week I received questions asked by our St. Stephen's Gathering students. One of their questions was: "How come people used to talk to God and see God, but now they can't?" Perhaps our Gospel for this week can help us reflect on this well asked question.

Throughout the Gospel of Mark, it is clear that Jesus’ own disciples do not really understand the nature of Jesus’ purpose and ways of accomplishing his purpose. Mark uses two healings to demonstrate the disciples blindness to seeing and following Jesus.

In both healings, Jesus restores the vision of two men.

The first account comes in Mark 822-26:

22 They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, "Can you see anything?" 24 And the man looked up and said, "I can see people, but they look like trees, walking." 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Then he sent him away to his home, saying, "Do not even go into the village."

The second account comes in our reading for this Sunday that is found in Mark 10:46-52:

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" 49 Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." 52 Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Our young disciple in the St. Stephen’s Gathering asks why people use to be able to talk to God and see God. But according to Mark, it seems that even the disciples could not see God in Jesus despite his presence with them for three years.

What will open our eyes to seeing and talking to God? We discover that between these two accounts of healing blindness, Jesus tells his disciples clearly that he will be turned over to the authorities, suffer at their hands, die, but then be resurrected by the power and love of God.

So, I would suggest that God is present in our world and that we can see him and have a conversation with him. Perhaps we are more ready to believe our “lying eyes” when it comes to identifying God among us. Jesus is not hiding from us. He clearly says to us where we will find him. He will be among those who suffer as he suffered; die as he died; and whose hope in God is not disappointed, even at the moment of death and the grave.

Our eyes lie to us in so far as they are blind to God being present and conversant with us in our suffering and pain or in the suffering and pain of others. The men who received their sight and who talked with Jesus had already suffered and been excluded by others from the community.

Such marginal people in those days hung out on the roadsides and begged for the small amounts of money on which they lived. On a High Holy Day, passing religious folks believed that by giving to such unfortunates, they would earn favor with God. This might be akin to Christians giving to the poor during the Christmas season.

Beneath this custom of giving to the poor and infirm, there is a deeper and more compelling truth. Jesus' prediction of his suffering, death, and resurrection was his way of telling the disciples where they would find him in the future. In finding him, they find themselves as children of God and brothers and sisters of one another.

The blind men who receive their sight represent the beginning and the ending of the process of conversion. The first blind man requires two healing attempts by Jesus and once he can see he is sent to his home and told to avoid the village (community).

The second blind man is healed at once and he immediately follows Jesus as he makes his way to his death in Jerusalem.

Discipleship is about having the eyes of faith; it is about having eyes that allow us to see and speak to the truth that is God among us. It is about being good stewards of this truth.

Those who have offered themselves in service to others are seeing God and communicating with God in a very deep and life-changing way. We do not give in hopes of gaining personal piety points in some heavenly game of salvation. We give in order to be with Jesus; to see Jesus; to speak to Jesus in the only way possible.

Consider those who have gone on a Corazon weekend build or who have done other acts of service within and outside of the church. Such people can honestly say that they have been in the presence of God and have heard his voice. They have been given eyes to see God in the world.

The disciples’ blindness is finally healed through their own complicity in the suffering and death of Jesus. It is the resurrected Jesus that they now follow. Like the blind man who follows Jesus into Jerusalem, they have been given eyes of truth rather than lying eyes and they too follow Jesus wherever he leads.

“We would see Jesus...”

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Stewardship of Welcoming Grace

The Feast Day of Saint Luke the Evangelist
October 18, 2006

Dear Friends:

At Christ Church there are no dues, membership fees, or requirements to give money, time, talent, or anything else. Christ Church is a community of faith. As a community we seek to welcome others as Christ welcomes us.

So what is this letter about? This letter is about stewardship. Most people think of stewardship and money, but I would like to suggest that money given to the church is not stewardship, but the result of a deeper stewardship of welcoming others as Christ welcomes us.

Consider that:

+ In our baptism vows, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves.

+ The two great commandments that Jesus gave to us included loving God with our whole heart, mind, body, soul, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.

+ Jesus only requirement to be his disciple was a willingness to follow him; learn from him; and imitate his manner of life.

This is the first stewardship of every Christian, the stewardship of loving God and neighbor. It was this stewardship of welcoming that led Jesus to ask his disciples to feed the hungry crowds that had followed him out into the wilderness.

The disciples were overwhelmed by what they saw as a problem of their limited resources (not enough food or money to feed such a huge number of people). The real problem was not a shortage of resources, but poor stewardship of the gracious welcoming that God was giving to them through Jesus.

This year I invite us all to consider how God has welcomed us, as individuals and as a community, into a fuller and more loving life of grace through the Christ Church community.

This year I invite us all to take on a more intentional stewardship of welcoming others as God welcomes us; of loving others as God so deeply and dearly loves us.

Finally, I invite us to consider how our commitment of our time, our gifts of service and money, can be used to offer others the Good News of God’s love and welcome. These are not the costs of membership, but the outward expression of our stewardship of God’s grace.

God’s Peace in the Stewardship of Grace and Welcome,

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Church Built on Sand

This photo of Christ Church mysteriously appeared on the kiosk over a month ago. It really caught my eye. I finally took it down and scanned it into my computer and made it my screen saver.

There is something about the image of the church built on a sandy hill with huge rumbling waves headed toward it that spoke to me. Didn't Jesus say something about building a house on sand?

Jesus told the crowd, "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell-- and great was its fall!"

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:21,24-29)

As a child growing up in the South Bay, I spent many wonderful times on the beach near the ocean's edge. I loved to built sandcastles. I was very careful about picking the spot on which to build. If I got too far from the water, the sand was too dry to mold it into turretts and towers. If I got too close to the water, one large set of waves could destroy the castle before it was finished.

I invite you to consider the photograph above and the words of Jesus about building one's house on sand or rock. Please respond from your own experience and understanding of why this picture captures your imagination. You may add your thoughts through the blog or by sending them to me for posting ( God gives us the gift of imagination to see what we normally do not see and to hear more deeply the word of life.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Our Gospel reading for this Sunday would appear to be about divorce, but is it really? Click below the icon to read it.

In the first verse of Chapter 10 in Mark’s Gospel, we hear that Jesus has just returned to the place of his baptism and temptations “in the wilderness of Judea beyond the Jordan River.” This is the place where John the Baptist had condemned Herod for marrying his brother’s wife which eventually led to John’s death by Herod’s order. John went toe to toe with Herod over the issue of divorce and remarriage and lost by virtue of Herod’s power.

The setting for our Gospel this week is also the place where Jesus was baptized by John and from whence he set out to be tempted or tested in the wilderness. So, what we will read on Sunday is about Jesus receiving the blessing of God that announces he is God’s son; it is about Jesus going under the waters of the Jordan to take on the death and violence in which God’s children (Herod and John) are held captive; it is about Jesus being tested to see if he truly understood his vocation as the Son of God.

The testing in the wilderness is the prelude to the testing that Jesus undergoes at the hands of the religious and political leaders who seek to entrap him in some unforgivable and death-worthy mistake. In fact, the question about marriage and divorce was crafted to catch Jesus up in the same trap into which John had fallen.

Jesus’ response to them is not so much about the “hard heartedness” of those who get divorces as it is about the continued hard heartedness of those who turn the beauty of human companionship into laws that do not uphold this beauty and God given grace.

Jesus takes these testers back to the vision of human relationships before we became orphans and assumed the role of god in our relationships with one another. This was a time when we no longer recognized God in the midst of our relationships such as marriage.I would recommend that you read through the Marriage Service from The Book of Common Prayer ( to see how the Episcopal Church tries to put forth a vision of marriage that reflects the vision of marriage that Jesus seemed to have.

In our Bible Study session this past Wednesday, we spent a great deal of time going over these verses in Mark. Gail Connolly offered a definition of hard heartedness that seemed to fit what Jesus was saying to his testers. She said it was an “insensibility to God.”

Hard heartedness can result from all sorts of life traumas or experiences, but the bottom line seems to be that hard heartedness is the defining symptom of our loss of the sense of God’s loving and grace-filled presence in our lives and in our relationships.

Bob Nelson did some research prior to class and offered another piece of information to our understanding of marriage at the time of Jesus. There was a great debate between the Rabbis about the propriety of divorce, with a conservative group following the teaching of Shammai, that a wife could be divorced only for adultery, and Hillel's teaching that men could divorce their wives for any reason, for instance the ruining of a meal or finding a more attractive woman.

In Mark’s account, Jesus does not really take either side. Instead, he says that the real problem with these laws and with the divorces they seek to regulate represents a failure to include the compassionate, merciful, and forgiving God whom he called Father as the authority in the relationship. When the disciples later ask Jesus what he really thinks about marriage, he tells them that it is intended to be a life long relationship.

Matthew’s understanding of Jesus’ teaching on divorce (Cf. Matthew 19:1-12), seems to take the same position as Shammai, which in those days would have been considered a more supportive position for women and reduce the choices for men when it came to divorce.Jesus brings us a vision of life that is full, joyful, abundant, and real.

How can such a vision be realized in and through our human family with all of our hard heartedness and the resulting broken lives we lead?

Reading the Gospel of Mark and seeing how Jesus' love and power to change human lives, even lives of those who are hard hearted as myself, gives me hope. I see this hope in you too.

Questions to Consider1

1. What are your views on marriage and divorce?

2. Do you believe that the Episcopal Church is supportive of life long unions of love and mutual joy the way Jesus seems to define such relationships?

3. Do you know the “rules” clergy are given to follow when it comes to remarriage of divorced persons? Here is the web site that contains these canons or rules that clergy are required to follow

4. Between the Rabbinic teachings offered above, which one comes closest to your way of thinking? Shammai or Hillel? Why?4. Do you know anyone who has gone through a divorce? How did you try to be a friend to this person during this difficult process?

5. Read the entire Gospel for this Sunday and consider why Jesus reacted so strongly when the disciples tried to prevent children from coming to him. What does this part of the Gospel have to do with the previous material on marriage and divorce?

See you on Sunday where the sermon will go deeper into this Gospel.God’s Peace in the Hearing, Bob

Mark 10:2-16

Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her."

But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Following the Dove

During our Wednesday night study of Saint Mark’s Gospel we seek to explore the words of the Gospel writer and the words spoken by Jesus as if we were part of the original listeners. The opened winged dove represents the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that can lead us as we seek to be present to Jesus.

I would like to suggest one way of doing this that has been very important to me in my spiritual life of prayer and meditation. This method invites us to write out the entire text of a particular portion of the Gospel that we are exploring. This past Wednesday we discovered that by writing out the text our reading was slowed way down which allowed us to see the Gospel in a whole new way.

I invite you to take this week’s reading from chapter 9 of Mark’s Gospel and try this powerful path for yourself. Simply put:

1. Leave a space of 3” as the left margin of your writing. In this space, you will place words, phrases, or ideas that jump out at you as you slowly copy down the text printed below. Some have used the computer to do this, but I would strongly recommend writing the Gospel in your own hand writing.

2. Next, slowly copy the text down on the right side of your paper. Allow yourself to make some words larger and some words smaller depending upon how each word strikes you.

3. As a word or phrase or idea comes up that grabs your attention, spend some time with it. Write it down on the left side of the sheet opposite where it occurs.

4. Ask the text questions in the left margin. If you don’t understand something or if you question why Jesus would say this or that, ask a question addressed to Jesus or God.

5. Don’t try to answer the questions you ask. Simply write them down, think about them, and then move on to the next portion of the text. Asking questions is very important. When we ask questions, God usually finds a way of helping us come to a better understanding of our relationship with him. “Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you shall find.”

Here is the Gospel reading for this week. Please spend some quality time with it and see what happens. The members of our class reported back some very interesting outcomes. Let me know if you have any unusual or interesting experiences as you follow this path of reading through writing the Scriptures.

Mark 9:38 John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us."

39 But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.

40 Whoever is not against us is for us.

41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.

47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,

48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 "For everyone will be salted with fire.

50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Leadership and the Child in the Middle

Happy birthday Lucca!

Lucca Franz celebrated her second birthday at Christ Church last Sunday. Here she is surrounded by some of our other Christ Church ministers as she prepares to blow out the candles on her cake. (check out the new Christ Church Kids' Art blog at

In our Gospel reading for this coming week, we read:

Then Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

Why did Jesus say that welcoming a child was the same as welcoming himself, but even more, welcoming God into the midst of the community?

I remember childhood as a time of extreme vulnerability and powerlessness. My parents were my protectors from all that might harm me. They sheltered, fed, and clothed me because without such care, I would have perished in my first year of life. The dependency needs of children seem to demand that parents move beyond what is best for them-selves in order to meet the needs of the children.

Jesus points to the child’s vulnerability, dependence, and powerlessness as the clearest expressions of the way God is known within a human community. God comes to us as a vulnerable, dependent, and powerless baby. That is the story of Christmas or the Feast of the Incarnation. Jesus comes to the human family, not with a conquering army or a divine mandate to rule over us, but as one who always robes himself as one of the least powerful, most dependent and vulnerable.

Jesus found a way to show his disciples that they were just like the little child that he held in his arms. He knew that each of them would experience their own vulnerability and powerlessness in the moment of his arrest. Jesus took on his disciples' vulnerability and powerlessness and gave it a body in which to dwell. They saw in the suffering and death that he predicted the very vulnerability and powerlessness of a small child.

The disciples, like us, would probably have preferred a god who would blow away those who opposed him and who would rescue us from our own fears that haunt us. As children grow up, the protective arms of our parents loosen as we strain to become autonomous adults. We become the parents to our own children and offer them the love and protection that they need to survive and thrive.

Here is the full text of our Gospel reading for this Sunday:

Mark 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

As we consider the whole Gospel reading for this Sunday, I would like to offer the following questions for our consideration:

1. Does the leadership of this church (not just the paid staff, but the people who call Christ Church home) see Jesus and God in the least of our brothers and sisters?

2. If you were to make a list of folks who are the most vulnerable and powerless in our society, who would be on that list?

3. The disciples were arguing about who was the greatest among Jesus’ followers. What did Jesus say to this behavior?

4. How would you describe the leadership style of this congregation?

5. When you consider “bad experiences” you may have had in other churches, what core Christian beliefs or personal beliefs informed you that these experiences were bad?

6. What does the expression “servant leadership” mean to you?

7. In the first paragraph I mentioned "other Christ Church ministers" surrounding Lucca. Why did I call our children ministers? Would you agree?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Diet for the Heart

Christ Church is blessed with many very talented and dedicated folk who provide me and the rest of the community with many wonderful gifts. One such gift giver is Lizz Beitzel. Week after week, Lizz writes a commentary called Lizz on the Lectionary. I read her work each and every week as part of my preparation for Sunday’s gathering. Lizz offers us insights into the readings and collect for each Sunday which are intelligent, down to earth, and helpful in understanding the Bible within our community (see Lizz's insights into the Collect for Sunday below).

Your worship experience will be deepened and strengthened by making a visit to Lizz’s weekly commentary; the Gospel Reflection; and the Adult Christian Education (ACE of Hearts)

We call this processs of deepening formation, the education of the heart. Life brings us many opportunities for such deepening. As our hearts are formed around the love and mercy of God, we begin to experience changes in the way we view the world. Faith has sometimes been called seeing the world through the loving eyes of God. Our physical vision is processed through the brain, but our spiritual vision passes through the heart. As we spend time reflecting on God's love through our reading and study, our hearts can begin to see God present in others and in ourselves. I hope that through some of the offerings provided by Lizz and other members of our community, you will experience the patient presence and love of God in your heart.

I have included below Lizz’s commentary on the Collect for this Sunday, but I encourage everyone to go to her blog site and read her offerings on the lessons for this Sunday. Here is the Lectionary Lizz blog site:

Collect for Sunday/September 17, 2006

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Just a few weeks ago in the gospel Jesus spoke out to tell people that it is what comes from within that makes the difference, not what we eat. What we call the heart is where the blessing or the curse comes from. So this week we pray, “grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts”. When I truly allow God into my day I find that I have new ideas to act on. Some of them are just not what I consider “my style.”

So there is always the question, Is this God’s style?”. My plumb line is “love your neighbor.” If it doesn’t look like love, real concern for another, think carefully before acting. On the other hand there are some of those far out actions that have yielded wonderful returns. I heard myself invite an acquaintance to recover after surgery at my house. What a gift from God she turned out to be! She was great, she just oozed that love that is from the One God. Get personal with this prayer. Let God surprise you.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Greed-Is IT Really Such a Bad Thing?

Images of Greed
What is so deadly about greed? Does wanting more than someone else really lead us to do evil? Isn't competition for resources and the wealth that such resources can create the backbone of our American economic system?
Allan Greeenspan, the former head of the Federal Reserve Board, testified before congress on the state of the American economy in 2000 saying:

"Why did corporate governance checks and balances that served us reasonably well in the past break down? At root was the rapid enlargement of stock market capitalizations in the latter part of the 1990s that arguably engendered an outsized increase in opportunities for avarice. An infectious greed seemed to grip much of our business community."

He concluded that "It is not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed had grown so enormously. "
So, greed may be a constant in human nature. Greenspan does not condemn greed, he simply says it needs to be properly regulated so that it does not negatively impact our economic system.

I would now like to turn our attention to this week's Epistle from James. The Christian community to whom he wrote has obviously developed habits around how the treat people with wealth and the poor. I offer James' letter to the leadership of the church and ask that you allow it to guide your exploration of the way we deal with wealth and poverty today.

James 2:1-14

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Do you agree with James that showing favoritism for the wealthy members of the church is the result of not really believing in Jesus as Lord? What do you think James is saying?

How does making distinctions among ourselves make us "judges with evil thoughts?"

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

Why do you think James says that God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith an heirs of the kingdom? How does loving God result in poverty that is rich in faith?

How are the poor dishonored today?

What do you believe the church should do in response to poverty?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

Why do you think James wrote that "judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment."

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James says that faith without works is dead. What do you think he means by that?

Is greed at work in the problems James addresses in the church?

Does Allan Greenspan call for a sort of secular economic repentance? If so, what is the basis for such a call? Utilitarian (infectious greed versus greed that stimulates economic growth)? Moral (greed is inherently evil)? Religious (greed is a denial that we are all brothers and sisters, children of the God of heaven and earth)? What other reasons might greed be seen as either a good thing or a bad thing?

Do you ever wonder if and how greed has changed your behavior or values?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Pain, Snoring, and a Prayer

Do I hear an “Amen?”

Madelyn and I waited together in the pre-surgery area of Torrance Memorial Hospital. Gall bladder removal is not a high risk procedure. When I was wheeled into the surgical room, I was greeted by a smiling and friendly anesthesiologist. That was the last thing I remember until I heard Madelyn say: “Bob, Norm is here.” I experienced a sharp pain and then I think I went to sleep. Despite my condition, I did hear Norm offer a prayer for me. Madelyn said I snored during part of the prayer, but that I said, “amen,” when Norm finished the prayer.

Father Norm was there at my bedside as a friend; a colleague; and a representative of God and the people of Christ Church. The prayer he offered, as I recall included thanksgiving for a successful surgery and an intercession for my continued recovery.

Once, when our youngest son, Matt, was in critical condition at the age of 6 months, our parish priest, Father Parker, said a prayer with us. I later thanked him for being with us and for the prayer he had offered. I admitted to him that I could not remember what he had prayed that difficult day. His response has stuck with me all of these years. He said: “It is not so much what I say that matters, but who I represent.”

In the midst of pain, unconscious sleep and awakening, I knew that Norm was at my bedside. His presence and prayer brought God and you all to my bedside. The next day, Bishop Bruno called to see how I was doing. His presence and prayer brought God and the larger diocesan community of faith to my bedside.

I have received many cards, emails, and phone calls from members at Christ Church. Each and every expression of concern and prayerful love brings God and the Body of Christ, which is the church, into my presence. I hope this week’s reflection is a helpful reminder for us all that most of the time, it is not so much what we say that matters, but whose presence we represent to one another. Thank you all for being Christ to me.

How am I doing now? It is Thursday morning, almost a week since my surgery and I am feeling much better than I did when I came up out of the anesthesia. My stomach is still tender. My taste in food has changed to a blander offering and I am eating smaller quantities.

I am looking forward to being with you this Sunday and to our celebration of what God is doing in and through each one of us.

God’s Peace in Healing,

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Truth in the Palm of Your Hands

"Come and hold in your hand and taste on your lips
the love which we cannot comprehend."

Mike Foss, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minnesota

This is the third part of a series of reflections. The other reflections can be found at the following links:

The photograph above was taken by Bruce Hazelton as Christ Church prepared to search for a new rector over 6 years ago. When I first saw this picture I was moved by the powerful image of someone reaching for and receiving the Bread from Heaven that has been the center and nurture of my life as a Christian.

I was also moved because I knew the woman whose hands were stretched out and holding the small communion wafer. In fact, Betty had known me most of my life growing up at St. Cross Church in Hermosa Beach. I knew her son, Chris, who was close to my age. When her husband, Les, went through critical surgery at Kaiser Hospital in Harbor City and was unable to receive communion due to the nature of his surgery, I took him a stuffed animal instead, hoping that he would understand and experience the love that was offered and present in that gift.

Does regular and faithful receiving of communion, the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation, make a difference in a person's life? I believe it does. This is not magic, but faith. Magic is the art of deception. Faith is the art of living and telling the Truth. Magic covers up the Truth, while faith in the love and mercy of God uncovers the Truth.

Two weeks ago I suggested that we all live in a matrix that filters and interprets reality in ways that blind us to the presence and activity of the God of grace whom Jesus called Father. I am not suggesting a gnostic (only the insiders with knowledge have the True Faith) view of our faith, but simply reminding us that we are subject to the same matrix that has always allowed violence to find sanction in religion. Jesus opens our eyes to a reality that is based upon love and forgiveness and a peace which the matrix in which we live can't fully understand ("The peace of God which passes all understanding...").

The Matrix link (see Matrix, Jesus and Us above) showed a conversation between a character known as Morpheus and Neo. Morpheus offers Neo a choice of pills. One pill would allow him to return to his previous captivity in the matrix and "believe whatever he wanted to believe."
Within the matrix, we are all free to believe what we want to believe, so long as such beliefs do not challenge the core belief that holds the matrix together. What is this core belief? What gives the illusion of the holy, unity, and peace? How has this core belief formed us?

The second pill would open Neo's eyes to see the matrix for what it was and to discover the Someone and something of greater value that would make returning to the blindness of the matrix nearly impossible.

The broken bread we share when we gather together is the antidote for the blindness caused by the matrix in which we live. The body of Christ is the food which reveals the matrix of the world that put Jesus on the cross and which continues to violently reject, punish, and exclude large numbers of God's children.

Everything we do in our Eucharistic worship on Sundays is summed up in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the common cup. We hear the story of God seeking to liberate us from the matrix of the world's scapegoating violence; we ask forgiveness and receive pardon for our active and passive participation in the ways of the world; we pray for those whose lives have born the weight of the sin of the world; and we share the peace of Christ with one another in grateful and joyful thanksgiving for being called into this family of God.

The peace we share and the feast of bread and wine is a prophetic act. In these sacramental actions, we are given a glipse of life outside of the dominant matrix of the world. We embody the Reality of God.

Having been fed by word and sacrament, we are sent out into the world with eyes to see God in others and to love them as we have been loved.

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us.
Therefore, let us keep the feast.

Flying Wonder Bread

Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." John 6:51-58

The Wilderness?
Where hunger hunts you down and
you wish to God
you had died a slave in
the Land of Dependability.

The Wilderness?
Where you have to beg
to a god long unknown
and only recently called on for help.

Where your complaints are answered
With food falling from heaven-
Flying Wonder Bread,
Flying bread,
Good for a day,
No preservatives added,
Just God
In it,
Through it,
And by it.

How do you get to the Wilderness?

One step at a time.
Sometimes in doubt with faith,
Sometimes in faith with doubt,
But always hungering for that which satisfies.

Desiring to be delivered from the slavery
of having it all,
knowing it all,
being it all,
You come to the edge of that terrible freedom,
the wilderness of God
where daily you wait in
freedom and uncertainty
for the coming feast of bread.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Do You Know This Man?

The lights dimmed, the screen lit up, and suddenly an old man was making his way across the screen. He seemed so sad. He approached the ticket counter at a movie theater only to discover that all of the tickets had been sold. He turns and slowly, sadly walks away from the box office.

I turned to Madelyn and said excitedly, "I know that guy!"

Who is this man? He is the Reverend Canon George Cummings. George has served as the Secretary of Diocesan Convention for many years. So, the next time you go to the movies, look for George or check out the ad here:

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Matrix, Jesus, and Us

Have you ever wondered why things happen as they do in our world? Have you publicly asked questions that challenge the basic assumptions of the culture in which we live? The problem with challenging the way most people see reality is that you may just get labeled a nut or bring the anger of others down on your head.

The culture in which we live functions like America On Line, invisibly and powerfully limiting what we experience and interpreting the meaning of these experiences. St. Paul said that it was God “in whom we live and move and have our being,” but culture, the matrix of our lives, even interprets how we understand God.

Biblical faith depends upon revelation to break through the matrix in which we live. Jesus is the revealed Word of God that comes to open our eyes and ears and hearts to see beyond the limited matrix in which we live. What truth did Jesus reveal to us through his life and death and resurrection that calls us to turn to God as an act of freedom?

Here is a brief scene from The Matrix that may illustrate the pervasiveness of culture.

If you have seen The Matrix, how would you describe the culture of the Matrix? Why was life in the matrix seen as slavery by those who had managed to escape it?

Consider the matrix in which we live. Is it a form of slavery? What are the true values of our culture that might be contrary to the Kingdom of Heaven for which we pray?

How did Jesus invite people to repent from the culture that had formed and shaped their lives and turn to the culture of God? On September 10, we will read that Jesus referred to himself as “the bread of life,” and that some people rejected his claim. If bread is the staff of life, it is the matrix in which we live. Jesus’ claim that he is the true bread of life challenges us to look at the false bread that promises life, but does not deliver.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Note of Thanksgiving from Bob and Madelyn

I would like to offer thanks to God for all of you who have been praying and standing watch during the past year on behalf of Madelyn and me. Your well wishing and acts of thoughtfulness have made the year easier for us.

Since her diagnosis a year ago, Madelyn has undergone radiation and chemotherapy combined with an experimental drug called Avastin. Each time her progress has been evaluated using CAT and PET scans, the tumors have shown a decided decrease in size and activity.

Today, we received additional good news that the tumors have shrunk by half from the previous sizes recorded. Her oncologist has given her a three month break from chemotherapy with the hope that the next evaluation will not show any increase in the size of the tumors. We are delighted, if somewhat cautious. Lung cancer is not curable at this point in time. We pray that the time we have is grace-filled and that Madelyn will be able to resume a more normal life style. We thank you all of you for your loving and supportive care and concern for her and for me.

As some of you have heard, I need to have my gall bladder removed soon. I will meet with my surgeon on Monday afternoon and I am hoping that the surgery can be scheduled during this coming week. In any case, please know that I am in medically good hands and I look forward to a successful surgery and recovery.

May God bless and keep you all until I see you in September.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Something to Consider

What is Your Theological World View?

Have you ever taken a quiz to see where your theological views might place you in the big picture of Christian theology. I just recently went to this web site and took such a quiz.

Here is the site.

What did my quiz reveal?

It says that I have the theological worldview of a Roman Catholic. Hmmm... If you read the reasons for why I scored this way, you will see that what is true of me is the high value I place on Church tradition and ecclesial authority.In the Episcopal Church, Tradition is one of the three sources of authority that helps us define the life of our church. We refer to Tradition, but are not dominated by it. It is important, but it must be balanced by Scripture and Reason.

So, while I value Tradition, I do not worship it or turn it into something of greater value than God. It is simply one of the three ways I have come to understand God.Neo-orthodox is my next highest score on this quiz. This score shows my very strong Protestant beliefs and demonstrates the balance with the Episcopal Church between Catholicism and Protestantism.

If you read about this post World War I theological movement whose advocates included many German theologicians (Barth and Tillich are two of my favorites), you will probably recognize why I have a passion for Scripture. Note that my lowest score was as a Fundamentalist. It is possible to be a lover of Scripture; someone who believes that God reveals who we are (anthropology) and who he is (theology) through Scripture without being a Fundamentalist.Jesus is the cornerstone in my reading of the entire Bible.

When I read the Gospel, I focus on the fact of Jesus' life and his death. The rest of Scripture, for me, can only be understood as it either reveals what Jesus revealed or fails to reveal what Jesus revealed. I believe the Word of God is contained in Scripture, but is most completely revealed in Jesus' life, death, and Resurrection. I believe that left to our own best thinking, without Jesus, we continue to repeat blindly the old relgious ways of scapegoating, exclusion, and violence. As we hear in Eucharistic prayer B, Jesus, brings us "out of error into truth..."My third highest score was as Post Modern/Emergent. My sense is that I am what is called a "liminal," in the language of Alan J. Roxburg, The Sky is Falling: A Proposal for Leadership Communities To Take New Risks for the Reign of God.

A liminal is someone who is tied into the traditional church and who would like to limit the impact and stress of the increasing changes that are happening in our daily lives. As liminal implies, we have reached a limit, a boundary, and we see the future that is quickly coming towards us as risky and changing. Roxburg reminds me that we can not stop the changes, but we can decide how we will respond to these changes. He suggests that many of the gifts of the mainline churches need to be offered to the emerging churches that sometimes seek to remove everything that is part of the past.

I value both positions and know that each expresses the needs of the other.So, I am a man born in the previous century (1946)who seeks to find creative ways of sharing the Good News of God with those whose experiences growing up have been very different than my own.

My youngest years of life did not include computers, televisions, IPods, cell phones, digital photography, increasing life spans, new forms of international terror,increasing fears and ignorance of pending global environmental disasters, and a globalized job market that is less and less dependable and ever shifting.

What is the Good News that God wants to share with this generation?

What treasures from our tradition will be considered gifts for the times of immense change?

Here is the summary of my test results:

You are Roman Catholic.

Church tradition and ecclesial authority are hugely important, and the most important part of worship for you is mass. As the Mother of God, Mary is important in your theology, and as the communion of saints includes the living and the dead, you can also ask the saints to intercede for you.

Roman Catholic 68%
Neo orthodox 68%
Emergent/Postmodern 61%
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan 57%
Reformed Evangelical 39%
Modern Liberal 39%
Charismatic/Pentecostal 32%
Classical Liberal 18%
Fundamentalist 7%

Thursday, July 27, 2006



Jesus of Nazareth

Gospel Reflection for July 30, 2006

Ordinary Time, Proper 12 (Revised Common Lectionary)

In July of 1966, I was just beginning my freshman year at California State College at Long Beach. It was a hot summer, but certainly not as hot as the one we have been having these past few weeks. The Lovin' Spoonful came out with a tune that went to the top of the charts called Hot Town, Summer in the City.

The chorus line for the song came back to me as I sought relief the past few weeks from the unusual heat of not only the day, but even the night. See if you can identify with these lyrics.

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

Over the weekend and through the opening days of the week, we heard of the need to conserve energy. Blackouts and brownouts resulted in many homes being without any electricity or anyway of maintaining a cool water supply. Food spoiled, people tried to find “a shadow in the city” as a shelter from the blazing sun.

Every time we experience what we call a scarcity of resources, whether it is electricity, shade, water, food, or clean air, I think about the story from our Gospel today. Jesus feeds 5,000 people through the generous and some might suggest naïve gift of a small boy.

Is it possible that how we read this story reveals our beliefs about the nature of God? Do we believe that God is a god of scarcity or a god of abundance? As we work our way through this passage from John, consider the characters and their interactions. Can you tell which god they believe to be the true God?

John 6:1-21
Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.

What attracted the large crowd to Jesus? John says that it is the “Signs that he (Jesus) was doing for the sick.” A sign points us to a destination, to a reality beyond what we know. In John’s Gospel, there are 7 such signs (Hint: The first sign Jesus performed was changing water into wine).*

Anyone who is a bit older can probably remember traveling the highways of America and seeingl those wonderful Burma-Shave billboards that mile by mile offered a continuing message about their product and a bit of amusement for weary or bored travelers.

Here is an example of a Burma-Shave message.


If we were to follow the Burma-Shave format, signs that led to the Kingdom of Heaven would certainly be placed in the most desolate and difficult paths that we travel spiritually, emotionally, and physically. John the Baptist invited people out into the wilderness around the Jordan River where he became a sign of the One who was coming.

Perhaps a good sign for today's Gospel might be offered in the following style.


The word used by John for signs was "semeia." Matthew, Mark, and Luke use the word "dunamis" (Literally means “acts of power.” This word comes into such English words as dynamic, dynamo, and dynamite) to describe what are often called miracles.

"Semeia" literally means signpost. Like the Burma Shave billboards posted in the wilderness of America, John speaks of the signs of the coming and present Kingdom of Heaven along the path that Jesus walks. These are the signs that the Gospel writer invites us to follow on our way to knowing Jesus.

These signs point to a different reality than the one our human culture has constructed and claims to be true. Jesus healing of the sick was a sign that showed the closeness of the Kingdom of Heaven. To be sure, it was not the final destination, but it did encourage those around Jesus to take a road less traveled.As you will read in the story, the crowd decided that Jesus would make a great king and so they charged him in order to force him to accept their crown. Jesus leaves the crowd behind.

There will be another hill on which he will become the bread of life for the world. It will be on that hill that his crown will be made of thorns and his throne will be the cross. The invitation to follow the signs that lead us to that hill outside of Jerusalem have been sent out. The signs mark the way.

What signs of God’s presence and guidance have you seen that have led you to follow the path on which you are traveling?

What do you believe to be the meaning of the sign of the feeding of the 5,000?

Which of the characters in the story below do you most identify with?

The young boy who provided the bread and fish?
The crowd who followed Jesus out into the wilderness?

Do you think that people who lived at that time would ever have gone out into the wilderness without taking sufficient food and water? (Consider that there have been 80 deaths attributed to the heat in California during this current heat spell)

How are the young boy and Jesus alike in their relationship with God?

How would you describe the god that Phillip and Andrew think is true?

Here is the Gospel Reading for this Sunday.

John 6:1-21
Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.

When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?"

Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.

When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.

The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.


Sign #1: Jesus turns water into wine at a Wedding Feast (John 2:1-11)
Jesus is Forgiveness.

Sign #2 Jesus heals the son of a nobleman (John 5:1-15)
Jesus is Lord of life.

Sign #3 The healing of a paralized man (John 5:1-15)
Jesus gives legs to the world.

Sign #4 The Feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-14)
Jesus is the bread of life.

Sign #5 Jesus comes to his disciples on a stormy sea (John 15-21)
Jesus is the Lord of all creation.

Sign #6 Jesus restores the sight of a blind man (John 9:1-41)
Jesus is the Light of World.

Sign #7 The Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-57)
Jesus is the resurrection and Life. Death can not change the love, power, and forgiving of God.